Company of Proprietors of the Droitwich Canal Navigation
Records of the Company of Proprietors of the Droitwich Canal Navigation: plans 1779-1840 and traffic return 1840.
After attempts to make the River Salwarpe navigable failed, attentions turned to constructing a short canal that would follow the route of the river. Support began in the 1750s but it took until January 1868 for the Act to be passed. Six months later work began. James Brindley had surveyed the route, and inspected the construction works although John Priddey was appointed resident engineer and was responsible for actually building the canal. The Droitwich Canal Navigation opened in March 1771. It was 6 ¾ miles long from Hawford to Droitwich, with 8 locks suitable for vessels 64 feet by 14 feet 6 inches. The Act had prohibited building the canal on the north side of the church at Salwarpe. Consequently there was a very sharp bend in the canal that caused considerable inconvenience to vessels. Trade was reasonable despite high tolls until the early nineteenth century. Competition from roads began to reduce traffic on the Droitwich Canal. Tolls were reduced in 1805. There was no horse-towing path along any part of the canal until 1806 when it was clear this omission was partly the reason for the decline in trade. In 1789 plans for the proposed Worcester and Birmingham Canal included a branch to Droitwich, which naturally greatly interested the Droitwich proprietors. Negotiations were begun regarding a junction and amalgamation between the two. The Droitwich Canal Navigation had attempted similar action with a Worcester to Stourbridge scheme, but had got nowhere. This time the proprietors had more success and in 1790 the Worcester and Birmingham company agreed to guarantee five per cent of Droitwich Canal shares from when their Act passed, in 1791. The arrangement proved expensive. Droitwich Canal overvalued their shares and claimed money annually even though the Worcester and Birmingham Canal was nowhere near completed and therefore not competition. Soon they refused to pay because the proprietors were failing to encourage trade. Droitwich Canal won legal action in 1808 to force the company to pay, pointing out the toll reductions and new towing path in their defence. In November 1810 the Worcester and Birmingham company and the Droitwich proprietors reached an agreement whereby the former would manage the Droitwich Canal. The latter would still exist and would monitor how the canal was managed. At this time the Worcester and Birmingham Canal was still far from completion. This situation lasted for the next decade. Trade on the Droitwich Canal did indeed suffer when the Worcester and Birmingham Canal eventually opened. In 1820 the two companies sought permission to amalgamate but were refused. The Worcester and Birmingham committee did not press the issue and reiterated their dissatisfaction with the Droitwich Canal's financial arrangements. The Droitwich Canal proprietors disliked the suggestion that they should raise tolls to the full Parliamentary level and found this would be difficult anyway, as the approval of the original Commissioners was required, most of whom had died in the 52 years since the Act passed. Fortunately for the proprietors the salt trade began to grow in the 1820s, encouraged by the repeal of salt duties in 1825 and some toll reductions. Their large, annual claims to the Worcester and Birmingham Canal had, by the start of the 1830s, become infrequent, small claims. A 21-year-lease of the Droitwich Canal by the Worcester and Birmingham Canal began in 1853. A year later, all the locks along the Droitwich Canal were lengthened and the Droitwich Junction Canal opened a few months later. This linked Hanbury Wharf on the Worcester and Birmingham Canal to Droitwich. These actions were a response to the growing threat from railways in the area. They did not seem to halt the decline because by the 1868 a receiver had been called in. Various offers were received from companies wishing to convert the waterways to railways but floundered on opposition. It was not until 1874 that an Act authorised the sale of the canals including the Droitwich, to the Sharpness New Docks and Gloucester and Birmingham Navigation Company. For further information on Droitwich Canal see Edward Paget-Tomlinson's 'The Illustrated History of Canals & River Navigations' and Charles Hadfield's 'The Canals of The West Midlands'.
It has not been possible to ascertain any original structure of record-keeping from the small number of records held for this company. The fonds has therefore been arranged in chronological order.
[See also: BW106 and BW120 for records of Droitwich Canal during other periods of ownership]